16. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

blog-graduation-2The Ph.D program finally came to a close when I received the scroll in Oct 2007. Yeah, my graduation got delayed by a year even though I’d submitted my thesis in Jan 2006. By the time I’d finished the usual revisions after the examiner’s remarks came back, then the Application to Graduate etc., I’d just missed the 2006 graduation’s ceremonies.

***

I once had a big debate with an old ACS friend of mine. This was about in 1993 I think. He was a PSC scholar and studying in Imperial College, and our dispute was over whether students are more liable to learn when they’re doing a program in NUS/NTU, or in an overseas institution.

He snorted in half derision when I said that I was learning a lot during my stay as an NTU student. He insisted that as an overseas student, he was far more likely to learn different things compared to the ‘limited’ opportunities of students studying at the local universities. He specifically cited ‘horse-riding’ as an experience that he believed one can’t get in Singapore.

Now that I’ve spent substantial time studying at the tertiary level both in Singapore and overseas, I have just a mite bit more informed opinion on the subject now than before – and my opinion today hasn’t changed from 16 years ago. I believe that as long as you’re willing to be open to new ideas and possibilities and try new things, you will learn as much studying in Singapore as in out of the country. Or in other words, a departure out of the country is not a prerequisite to learning.

blog-graduationOr maybe it’s just my perception of learning. I’ve always found that some of the most meaningful lessons have stem from people, incidents that are just immediately around me.

Work at the doctoral degree level, if nothing else, is expansive. Your world and perceptions opened up. You no longer merely accept things at face level. In everything, even something as an apparently innocuous statement, there are nuances. Learning isn’t merely about knowing, understanding or analyzing facts. It is about building relationships from facets of knowledge and extending upon them.

But all these things I believe was the product of the type of study as opposed to the physical environment I was in. If I’d done a similar Ph.D program in Zimbabwe, I’m pretty sure I would have learned too.

So what really did I learn in the program? Well, putting aside all the domain knowledge stuff on virtual worlds, game design, social behavior etc. for starters, I’m a better Microsoft Word user than before now! I had no idea how to use Styles for instance, or the Document Map. Or the Index generator. And I was too fond of direct formatting tags like CTRL-B, CTRL-I for bolding and Italicising. If one’s serious about properly processing a word document, those tags should never be used: one should be using only Styles.

I’ve also learned the incredible value of writing Simple English. Oh, I still revert to my long-winded self when I’m unconscious, but I’m a better language editor these days – though only if I’m working on a serious document: blog posts don’t count.:)

Lastly, if I were to be asked what I think is the single most important skill that’ll help someone else complete a Ph.D, it’d not be passion, hard work, interest, skill, competence etc. As important as those skills are, I’ve concluded it’s organization that’s the most critical skill one needs. As long as you naturally gravitate towards top-down decomposition of any complex problem you face into smaller constituents, or you naturally like to create plans for every project you do, you already have a leg up! :)

14. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

Well, all that pain-staking data gathering work, subsequent data analysis and theory generation would be pretty much pointless if you can’t put it all into words. Not unsurprisingly, a lot of doctoral candidates ultimately get stuck at the thesis writing phase.

There are certainly a lot of horror stories abound about writer’s block, writing that gets nowhere etc. I’ve shared in an earlier post in this series of my game plan: “Start publishing early.” I had the best of those Singaporean traits: kiasuism. My thesis submission was due in Jan 2007. I started writing for the thesis through my first paper with Elina… in Mar 2004 – 3  years before the deadline LOL.

I don’t know how the other researchers in my office handled their own thesis writing. I imagine that every one had their own special strategy to deal with the huge mess of data, methods, techniques, instruments, theories, frameworks, and paradigms. In retrospect now after the event, I don’t think writing my magnum opus was all that traumatizing!

blog-thesis-writing For starters, I didn’t even bother trying to write in sequence. I determined the structure of the thesis early on by creating the individual chapters first, and then followed by a general outlay of each section. Then I simply wrote bits and pieces, every day, somewhere. One day I could be writing chapter 4 section 3. The next day I’d write on chapter 2’s conclusion. The next, on chapter 7 section 2.

What was the benefit of this unstructured approach? Well, I was constantly writing and refining what I wrote. I never got stuck. If I got to a section where I didn’t know what or how to write, I simply bookmarked the page, then went to write something else, elsewhere.

The down side? Well, it was a major, major effort trying to keep track of what I was writing, since it was all coming gradually together in piecemeal fashion! It helped that I (think!) find it easy keeping track of multiple things at a time. Ling looks on in envy: she says her CPU can handle just one major process at a time LOL. Secondly, I had to do a lot of regression writing, or having to keep going back to double check in multiple spots that you’re consistent in what you’re saying.

I actually even had a little internal target in writing productivity: basically, write 2 pages a day. I wasn’t too dogmatic about following this though, since on some good days where I had inspiration or some idea made better sense, I’d be be on a roll and get out 5-6 pages. And would you believe it – I wrote big sections of the thesis at Mcdonalds when I was back in Singapore in June for semester break LOL.

Another little thing I’m proud of was that while I was allowed the option to get my thesis professionally proof-read for language, I didn’t take up that option. I felt if this was going to be genuinely my work, I had to be all my words and no one else’s. So, those few instances of funny language, idiosyncratic phrasing, and maybe even a couple of fossilized stylistic language quirks that are unique to Singaporeans… it’s all there in my thesis.

When the thesis was gradually approaching completion, I had a good fix of the date I was going to target completion. Here’s one thing I’m very grateful for: that our Lord not only blessed me with being able to finish before my Jan 2007 deadline, I was able to finish it a year ahead of time even. I’m not certain of this, but I think I may have finished my thesis first among my peers in the office who started their doctoral programs at about the same time.

But it sure was a mad rush towards the end! When you’re writing a work of 100,000 words, a single proof-read would easily take half a day. I lost count of the number of major revisions I had from the point when the first draft was completed in mid-November. By major revisions, I mean the accumulation of changes and improvements that warrant a reprint of the thesis for a next round of checking. I’ll put the number of such revisions, conservatively, to 25 or so. You can imagine the amount of paper that was being used just for my one thesis alone.

And on the 24 Jan 2006, it was a wrap. I didn’t print my thesis. As I understood from the university’s exams office, my thesis was the first digitally submitted thesis for examination in the university. I simply had to make a few copies on CDR and accompanied with the necessary paperwork. Before you say, “Ah… the wonders of modern technology”, that digital submission turned into a bit of a fiasco – because it’d get lost for a couple of months before it was found again, delaying my graduation by half a year.

Still, on the 24 Jan 2006, I was feeling quite at the top of the world. I immediately got to packing my bags, disconnecting my utilities and telecommunication services, clearing my office and apartment, and saying my goodbyes. And on 29 Jan, I was back in Singapore for good.:)

And the last post in this series, finally! Wrapping it all up, and in retrospect next.

13. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

bog-thinkingback-08 Many students from Singapore who go elsewhere to study go wild. After all, when you’re coming out from an arguably boring Red Dot to places with no parents, less censorship, more freedoms of expression – never understood why this is such a huge thing for some people, but maybe in a different post next time – you should have fun. As long as your grades are still in order, why not let loose a little?

Ironically, I didn’t have the same desires to let loose and have fun. I wonder if it was a case of being older than the average international student from Singapore. Or it was that I wasn’t rolling in money for the program. Or that I’m simply not the naturally adventurous sort.

Either way, I ordered my life in Perth largely to a pretty structured routine. I spent perhaps 95% of my time either at work in my research office on campus, or at home. I had spreadsheets to keep track of the groceries I needed for my meals, and did grocery shopping two to three times a week at one of three places (one was a mini-mart within walking distance, two were supermarkets 5-10 minutes drive away). Occasionally I caught movies, though not often as ticket prices cost about twice that in Singapore. I was teetotaler, so didn’t pub. I didn’t ‘hang out’ with my students, and only on occasion with the other researchers in the office.

Thankfully, the monotony of working-sleeping-back to working routine over the years was broken by visits. Family came by to visit in Nov 2003, and we drove down south to visit the vineyards at Margaret River. Ling came by to visit and stay on two occasions, and there were a few other friends from Singapore whom I caught up with too when they were in the vicinity.

I secured a studio apartment at Farnham Street from 2004 onwards. The picture here is my view out of the window. The house was huge compared to the townhouse from my first year; the ground floor had five bedrooms, and the entire second floor was my apartment. Floor area wise, it was about the size of a two room flat in Singapore. Heck; much of my apartment was bare: there was simply more space than I needed.

I had comparatively better housemates at my second home from 2004 onwards too. It helped that the house was simply much bigger, so we weren’t in each other’s hairs at all. Oh, I faced the problems of messed up kitchens still, but it was heaven compared to the loud music and persistent smoking from my Beveridge Street home. Interestingly, my housemates weren’t Chinese this time; I had a White South-African, an Indian Singaporean, and Nigerians and other Africans.

I had a bad coughing spell in 2003 though. That was just awful. I coughed (and coughed and coughed) for four months during that winter season. It got to the point where it was painful, as my diaphragm muscles had grown sore as a result of constant contraction and pushing against the chest bones. The bad coughing has returned twice in the last few years in Singapore, but it isn’t so bad now since I know better how to deal with it, and also there’s Ling to help take care of me.:)

Coming soon to the end of this series. The next part: writing the thesis.

Many international students work. They have to, because beyond the exception of a few rich kids, most are perpetually cash strapped. Studying abroad is a capital investment: tuition fees will set you back at least $25,000 per year. You’ll spend another $15,000 in living expenses and accommodation. In all, you’re looking at $40,000 per year of study.

This is one of the main reasons why many international students at University absolutely fear subject failures. It’s not always about the embarrassment of having a “P” grade on your final transcript, assuming if you pass the supplementary assessment. It’s entirely a matter of dollars and cents. If you fail a module, you potentially have to stay for a semester or two more: and you incur more tuition fees and living expenses.

blog-workingThere are scholarships available of course, and some are specifically intended for international students. It’s funny to think of it in the local context too. There’re lots of threads online complaining about how foreign students in Singapore get all kinds of benefits. But universities do like having foreign students. They add cultural flavor, and they are often very motivated to do as well if not even more as the local students are. Scholarships are one way to help draw the best students outside the country, and encourage them to study at the institution, and hopefully contribute to the country after they’ve graduated too.

Naturally, scholarship awards are hugely competitive, and each potential award typically sees numbers of applications well in excess to the number of awards. My application to the main doctoral scholarship wasn’t successful – and I suspect that my bachelor’s degree results were mediocre had to do with that LOL – but I received another Completion Scholarship instead which was more modest in its financial support, but every little bit helped.

I was very keen to continue some teaching work too as a doctoral candidate, and Dr. Dreher was instrumental in helping with arrangements in this. I especially enjoyed working closely with students on extended projects, so during my three years I supervised a number of final year student project groups working on their year long major systems development projects. I also guest lectured at the Humanities faculty.

Many people complain about the CPF program here too, but there was a similar program while I worked in Western Australia too, even if the program was called something else. Nicely too, the contributions I made out of my ‘salary’ was returned when I left Australia at the end of my Ph.D.

All in, I can’t help but imagine what things would had been like if I haven’t worked. Aside from that the incoming funds helped a lot in my financial bottom line, I would have meant a gap of 4 years during which I would be out of touch with teaching.

Wow. This sure is turning into a long series of posts. There’s so much to recollect and say! Part VIII in the series next: on living in Perth LOL.

11. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

While it’s not necessary for doctoral candidates to publish research during their course of study, many do.

I determined early on too that I would seek to publish as a doctoral candidate. My project into grief play was structured into five research objectives (ROs), so my gameplan was to publish research for each of the five ROs.

The first of five ROs required me to determine the meanings, boundaries and terminology of the project. An entire RO on just determining meanings?? Yea. At that point in time, while there was a consensus on what grief play roughly meant, participants were far less agreeable on its specific meaning and on the circumstances where an act or incident would constitute grief play. Without getting into too much detail on grief play itself, suffice it to say that any given incident purported to be grief play would involve the perpetrator, the victim(s), the bystanders, and game management responders – all of whom can disagree whether grief play had occurred, let alone its resolution.

bog-thinkingback-06I was fortuitous though not to write my first research paper all alone. I worked with Elina Koivisto, a Finland-based researcher who’d already published work on MMORPGs. We’ve become friends, and she was at our wedding too.:)

It’s fun to think about it now. Our work hours were different: she was, literally, on the opposite side of the world and timezone. So, we tried all kinds of communication tools to collaborate, eventually deciding on IRC and emailing. Our work styles were different too, and we certainly learned a lot from each other. In her acknowledgements page of her own doctoral thesis, she wrote that working with me has also led to changes in the way she herself does research!

So, our first paper was for a local conference in Singapore, hosted at NUS in June 2004. That was the first time I spoke at a conference, but as these things go, I don’t think there are many teachers who aren’t comfortable in front of an audience. Even if it was an international audience, many of whom who have more letters behind their name than I had in my own name, and whom you have to explain your research to too.

2004 was my most productive year: I wrote, presented and published several papers, and won an award for one of them. The highlight for that year occurred when both papers I submitted to a conference in Copenhagen were accepted. I spoke for one. The picture here is of me during my presentation at the IT University of Copenhagen in Dec 2004. Elina – who returned to co-write with me the second paper – did the second. Ling accompanied me on the trip, and we had a wonderful 8 day stay in Copenhagen, followed by a short holiday in Bangkok before we returned to Singapore.

I should get Ling to write something on our Copenhagen trip from more than 4 years ago before age really catches up on the both of us and we completely forget its details!

The next post in the series: on Working in Perth.:)

10. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

Before I could actually start doing research in MMORPGs (the fun part!), I had to first prove to the faculty that my research was viable, accomplishable, and important. This was the Candidacy period, the culmination of which is a formal research proposal that you present to the faculty and supervision committee, who’d decide your fate: go ahead, or back to the drawing board. And you only get so much time to successfully pass your candidacy, because if you can’t, well, your keys to the research office will get taken from you LOL.

My specific topic focus on grief play in MMORPGs wasn’t readily apparent from the get go. I developed several ideas during the early months running up to the candidacy presentation, eventually narrowing it down to three in March. I wrote research specifications for all three, sent them out to academics involved in virtual worlds research, and asked for comments. Post returns and a lot more brainstorming and considerations, I decided on grief play. This topic was the most controversial in that it saw highly polarized opinion between all concerned parties, and typically elicited strong reactions from MMORPG participants. And lastly, no one else was doing similarly substantial research on this.

blog-DSC_8624-candidacy Most doctoral students take about six months to complete their candidacy, and I took about as long too. I delivered my candidacy presentation on the 12 June 2003. I remembered the several rehearsals I did for two of my supervisors: Drs. Dreher and Helen Merrick. Funnily, I thought I was more convicted in my rehearsals than my actual day presentation. In any case, the timing for my delivery ended on the dot at 20 minutes sharp, and I remembered Dr. Dreher remarking thoughtfully that in his experience, few presentations ever ended rightly on time.

I spoke for 20 minutes, and was queried for another 50 minutes. A few of those questions were tough as I had no ready answer for, given that this was a really new research area. I don’t think there was any concern about my ability to successfully complete the project, and my passion for it was obvious enough, hopefully.

What the faculty was concerned about were the methodological aspects, and I suspect if computer gaming was really within the scope of research areas pursued by the faculty. Things are different today of course; it’s all about interactive entertainment even in education these days. There are huge projects in several places looking into the use of games to better engage learners. But back 6 years ago, I wonder if more than a few persons in that presentation room wondered if gaming phenomena qualified for a serious study. That incidentally is another thing I wonder: that if I’d researched on games in education instead, in what way would things be different!

In any case, the committee then conferred for an hour before they decided to pass it with some minor amendments. Just to contextualize things a bit: an hour conferment is not short. The post-mortem feedback noted that some staff also asked if I’d been correctly placed into the correct faculty. Wasn’t virtual worlds research humanistic, and if so, shouldn’t I be in the Humanities faculty instead?

Truth to tell, my research into virtual worlds was cross-disciplinary: it could conceivably be cited as an information system even if in a somewhat loose sense, there were for certain business elements in it, and lastly, it was a study of human culture. But one thing I learned as a Ph.D candidate was that issues with regards to doctoral-level candidates weren’t always academic. There was, well, a political dimension. Good Ph.D candidates with excellent potential were like precious commodities, and faculties were loathed to lose them whether from transfer to another faculty within the institution, or to another institution altogether (for instance when the supervision staff leave and bring their Ph.D students along with them). The resolution? I had three supervisors from Curtin Business School, and the School of Humanities! :)

It was a happy day when my amended research proposal was passed and candidacy formally approved in August 2003. There were congratulations all round. I was no longer provisional, and finally a full-fledged doctoral candidate.

The next post in the series: speaking at conferences.:)

09. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

blog-thinkingback-04 There’s a common underlining basis for the award of a Ph.D after all those years of slogging. Firstly, your work has to constitute a substantial and important contribution to the body of knowledge. Secondly, the conduct through which you produced your work has to bear favorably against scrutiny.

But outside that underlining basis for the award, there’s little other similarity. One conference I attended during my first year as a doctoral candidate included a keynote speech presenting research studying Ph.D candidates in Australia. Ph.D programs vary vastly across regions, and to a lesser degree, across universities.

For instance, some Ph.D programs are structured. You spend a substantial amount of time doing coursework modules on research and analysis methods first before you start on your actual project. Other Ph.D programs drop you right into the deepest end of the ocean, and you’re left to figure it all out. My program belonged to the latter sort! I didn’t have any substantial experience in qualitative forms of research, and were it not for the close supervision and advice which I benefited greatly from, I would have got lost quickly in the quagmire known as “understanding research”, and all the paradigms, frameworks, data instruments, explorative and interpretivistic methods, ethical considerations that are mixed into the rojak.

And that’s just the methodological part of the process. As if that was not already overwhelming, I also had to deal with the problems posed from an unfamiliar domain. I was trained in engineering, and I liked facts and applications. Social studies into virtual worlds is anything but factual. What you get is subjectivity, experiences, tons of casual and anecdotal evidence (but which reveal a lot), and theories and philosophies pouring out of every nook and cranny. Understanding Software Engineering reference books is a cakewalk compared to the social studies research papers and publications that were required reading.

Moreover, the research area itself was both old and new. New because of the environment: small scaled virtual worlds had existed for just slightly more than 10 years, and there was only a smattering of published research on it. Old because it dealt with human behavior, and any effort to contextualize human behavior even in a new environment would require you first to understand the basis for human persons acting the way they do, for well, well since Adam and Eve.

It was also during the Ph.D program that I realized the importance of the Library. As an undergrad, I’d typically bought rather than borrowed reference materials. However, the sheer volume of research materials in post-grad studies made purchasing even a small fraction of those materials a far too costly proposition. So it was the library, and I had to learn quickly how to make use of it.

Fortunately, Curtin had a great library (picture here) setup. And as a post-grad student I was given loan privileges close to that of staff. Moreover, loan periods in this library were by default indefinite until someone else requested for the item. Research databases were accessible via search engines – there were many and I’m not referring to Google here – were also instrumental in helping me filter through the several hundreds of thousands of publications in the domain.

And the paper printing, oh my. Ling tells me that she has to be careful with paper usage in her school. As post-grads, we printed like no tomorrow, on quality 80gm paper. I’ve been through a couple of institutions now, and the only place where I’ve seen faster consumptions of paper reams is in those photostating shops in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre LOL.

The next post in the article is my recollection of my Candidacy.:)

My first home in Perth was a townhouse located at 11 Beveridge Street. It was two floored, newly built with six bedrooms, fully carpeted, air-conditioned including the common living and kitchen areas, and a 15 minute walk from my office in campus.

My first year in Perth accommodation wise should had been a great luxurious experience. Unfortunately, it was anything but, because there were…

Housemates who smoked in the house.

Housemates who brought their friends into the house and who also smoked.

Cigarette ash on the carpets.

Housemates who left the kitchen littered with unwashed utensils, overnight and usually longer even with one record being unwashed materials for three nights. Imagine food leftovers that’s left on the stove for three nights.

Housemates with loudspeaker volumes when they yak on the phone.

Housemates who paired up and when they had relationship difficulties, I was unwillingly dragged in to be a crying shoulder.

Big disputes with parking with neighbors; in one case, residents from another townhouse parked their vehicles into our property instead.

blog-home No kidding on the last. It’s like if your next door neighbor parks his car into your driveway and thinks nothing of it (blogged here 6 years ago LOL).

Initially I thought it was an Asian thing – all my housemates were from either Singapore or Malaysia, and in their early 20s – but I learnt in the following year that it was an age thing in my second home when I had African housemates. Still, I lost count of the times I tried talking to these fellows asking politely each time not to smoke in the house and to clear up their kitchen mess. I think Matt remembers some of these ICQ conversations of me lamenting that I felt like I was living with neanderthals!

At the end of my tether, I called the housing agent to step in, and one fellow took offence and turned hostile claiming that I should have spoken to him first (as though I haven’t try to LOL). Yep, and now I also had to deal with hostility in the house too.

So, as attractive and comfortable as the place was, as soon as my accommodation contract expired at the end of my first year in Perth, I looked for alternative accommodation. To be continued!

07. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

blog-thinkingback-02 There was a lot going through my mind just before my departure from Singapore in Feb 2003. That I was stepping into a larger world was foremost. At that point, since I wasn’t seeing anyone, my only ties to Singapore were family, my colleagues, and some friends from my ex-small group, Salmon Run, that I still kept in touch with. Singapore had not started its big push into interactive entertainment then, and the hubs for game studies weren’t in Asia or Australia. The possibility of permanent residency outside Singapore was a real consideration that I wasn’t adverse to.

In any case, I wrote a large number of emails and letters to friends – back then there wasn’t this thing called Facebook where you can just set a status flag and inform everyone at a go – informing them of my arrangements, catching up and the like. Lots of little emotions I remembered. A lot of anticipation to learn and see new things. A little worried about my costs and expenditure (though parents helped a lot in this respect). A little sad that my relationship with someone I was seeing hadn’t worked out – she’d stated in emphatic terms that she just didn’t see a relationship with someone doing an Ph.D outside Singapore turning well.

So, on a quiet Sunday morning on 24 Feb, the Lentor branch of the Foo clan all came to bid me farewell, and I took off.

One of the nice things about living in Western Australia is its proximity to Singapore. Not only are flight times reasonably short at just under 5 hours, time zones are typically similar outside periods of daylight savings. There were two airlines (Singapore Air and Qantas) flying daily to Perth too, and Valuair introduced flights later on as well.

As it turned out, my flight to Perth was delayed by 30 minutes but was otherwise uneventful. The airport was a short 15 minute drive from the University and my new home. I was picked up at the airport by Dr. Dreher, who drove me first to meet the housing agent to finish up parts of the the paperwork that couldn’t be done online and through email.

After getting the house keys and a quick inspection of the house, we went by the University for a tour of the campus. The place was eerily quiet and completely devoid of all activity. It was a Sunday afterall, and even if not, semester break. Quite different from NTU’s Jurong campus, which was permanently bustling with activity from hostelites at all times, even well dead into the nights.

The day’s events closed off with dinner with a visit to Dr. Dreher’s place, then dinner with his family (we hit an Asian restaurant), and finally a return back to my new home at Beveridge Street. More on this in the next post.:)

06. March 2009 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts · Tags: ,

I’m doing lot of posts recollecting, especially important now that I get older and I’m worried that my brain cells degrade further LOL. This will be a long ten part series on the Ph.D program, so do bear with me.:)

To be honest, doing a Ph.D wasn’t really something on my long term radar until quite late. I’d done well enough for my Master degree even though the time I took to complete was stretched – 4 years as my first attempt at the dissertation project turned abortive – and I was quite happy not to return to the books ever again.

However, a turn of events took place at the institution I was teaching at in late 2001 led me to start considering other opportunities. I met my Godmother for a long dinner, during which she had some words of advice: that if I was going to be in tertiary education long term, I had to do a Ph.D. Not just a doctoral program, but a Ph.D by research.

There are a couple of ways to get into a Ph.D program. You could always apply cold-turkey to the institution, and hope that as your project proposal gets passed around the faculty, there’s someone who’s free or likes your proposal enough to agree to take you in as a doctoral student. The better way though I believe is to solicit for your supervisor on your own first. Because if there is a professor who agrees to take you in, that’s your green card. The rest of it – i.e. the application – is just paperwork.

blog-DSC_8627-thesis I knew my interest area early on: social studies into virtual worlds, and largely because of my experiences starting up and running guilds and communities in MMORPGs. At that point of time (in 2001), MMORPGs were starting to pick up steam and appeal even though they didn’t see the huge player subscription numbers we do today – e.g. World of Warcraft’s 11.5 million players – but it was still a relatively new area of studies. There were a few persons and research project groups looking into player demography using quantitative techniques, and others in addiction, communication patterns, player-generated content and the like. I do not enjoy, personally, quantitative research techniques, so my leanings were towards exploration, interpretivistic investigation and qualitative techniques of interviewing, observation, and field studies.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many persons back then who could supervise my research area. There were a few based in the United States and in Europe, but none I could find in Singapore or Australia. But my application to Curtin University of Technology went ahead on account of the fact that I would be working again with someone I knew: my Master degree’s research project supervisor, Dr. Heinz Dreher. He was experienced in qualitative techniques, and also in the data gathering and assessment approaches in this bracket of methods.

So, as soon as the supervising committee was put together, the paperwork portion went along speedily, and I was officially registered into the faculty in September 2002. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pack up my bags, leave Singapore and head off to Perth right away. I’d taken an institution scholarship for my Master degree with the bond to expire in May 2003. Through clearing leave, goodwill on the part of that school’s management for (I hope) one of their long-time staff who was finally moving on, I was released from work in Feb 2003.

In the months before leading up to my departure that month, I did a bit of ground work, got my materials together, picked up whatever reference books I could buy first in Singapore, and mostly bit my nails in anticipation for a study program that could take me anywhere between 4 to 6 years.

The second and next post in this series will be on Departure & Arrival.:)